Smartphone Blues

Ok, I am going to admit to a very technology-uncool item – I don’t have a smart phone. I still have the old circa 2009 low-tech Tracfone that my Dad gave me, before he died. I’ve held onto it out of sentiment, but I think it’s time to let it go.

Dad at Jacks

That phone had been his lifeline for his many hospitalizations in that previous year or so. Getting a phone line in the hospital was an extra expense and a hassle – and sometimes they didn’t work.  At one of the rehab-nursing care facilities there was only one portable phone shared among all patients on the entire wing – that was never going to work, as he loved to be in touch with friends and family by phone.

So my brother bought him the Tracphone and got it set up for him.  Once when I couldn’t reach him on his new phone, and called the nurses station, they brought the portable — and he was despondent.

“I fell asleep while I was on the phone and the Tracfone phone ran out of minutes, so I’m stuck!!”   I told him it was no problem, I could magically add the minutes for him from across the country, and did so while speaking to him; I heard the little chime in the background as the Tracfone minutes updated, and he was delighted to see it go from 0 minutes to 800 minutes while he watched.

There were so many times I had flown across the country to visit him in the hospital, or the ICU.  Once I took an entire month, got someone to stay with my cats, flew across country to take him to New York City to get a second (and third) opinion about a terminal cancer diagnosis.

The upstate doctors had given him no chance – “You had a good run, Joe” was the statement made by his primary physician during an appointment I’d accompanied him to.  I resolved at that moment to prove that doctor wrong.

We went to NYC, saw oncologists and surgeons at the two major hospitals there.  One surgeon looked at his previous tests, and said they could still do a thoracic surgery – a very invasive procedure with no guarantee of success – if he wanted.

I asked what the odds were – the surgeon gave him a 10% chance. “I’ll TAKE IT!” he exclaimed.  His will to live was strong.

The NYC docs ordered new tests; we went back to NYC a week or two later, and on that visit, the surgeon we met said the new tests showed that the situation seemed to be healing itself, there was no need for surgery, and he no longer thought there was any cancer but that it was some other kind of mass that was being healed/reabsorbed by the body.  We left that appointment and visited the Guggenheim, a building he’d seen being constructed while he lived in NYC, but had never been inside.  That night, we went to Little Italy for dinner.  As we walked back to the car, he needed to stop and take a rest, so he went to sit on a doorstep.  He was a little unsteady and sort of landed a little hard on the step.

A young woman walking past asked him, “Are you OK sir??

He looked up at her, cane in one hand, stair railing in the other.  He let go of the stair railing, raised his hand and with a bright smile and big eyed grin, said in a stage voice, “I’m going to LIVE!”

She walked away confused, but it made me laugh.

He was a guy who had lived through four heart attacks – FOUR heart attacks!  So many people don’t survive the first one, and he’d survived four.  Two open heart surgeries – during one in the early 1990s, he’d technically “died” for about a minute as he went into cardiac arrest on the table – but survived.  Other surgeries over the years, new arteries put into both legs, back surgeries, eye surgeries, and a long list of chronic health issues – but he kept on going.

But there came a time when his near miraculous ability to recover from the brink was no more.  A few months after his fourth heart attack, he was sent back to the hospital, and he wasn’t bouncing back the way he had so many times before.   When he was given a terminal diagnosis and a few months to live, we were told we had 48 hours to move him from the hospital either to a nursing facility,  or that we needed to set up 24 hour nursing at home for the transition period.

He said he wanted to go home.

So, we got him home, after jumping through seemingly endless medical and administrative hoops.

A few months later, I visited again to spend some more time with him now that he was settled at home.   I’d be there with him in the night when he’d wake up confused. He usually recognized me in the afternoons, and the time we had together to talk or interact was usually after lunch, when the pain killers had kicked in but were at a lower dose than the nighttime.

One afternoon, when he was up and talking, he saw me struggle with my cell phone; I’d dropped it and the screen had smashed, and he offered me his Tracphone.  I didn’t want to take it, but he insisted.

“This is the only thing I own now. I want you to have it. It’s the only thing I can give you.”


“I won’t need it anymore.”

I’ve been using that phone ever since, for about four years. Part of the face of it fell off and was lost, but it still functions. Has no internet service or other bells/whistles, just a basic phone. No apps. No iTunes. Nothing but cell service. I almost feel like I’m carrying a pager sometimes. I see people trying not to stare at me when I use it in public. Once someone picked it up off a bar and tried to change the TV channels with it.

I’ve resisted getting a smartphone because that would mean retiring this little piece of my Dad, and I think of him most times when I use it. But, I think it is time to upgrade, as it’s nearly impossible to navigate the world without one these days.
I’ll still keep the Tracfone, as a memento… He sure loved to talk on the phone.

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1 Response to Smartphone Blues

  1. jrb says:

    It appears you still exist! This is good news, for me at least. Please give a holler when you have a chance.

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